When news first hit that the 17th hole at St. Andrews would be extended, I was confused. See, after my college years, a friend and I jumped on a plane to Scotland, had some connections within the St. Andrews Links and, after a trial period, were given jobs as caddies at the Old Course.
A summer walking those grounds can teach you a lot, but one thing we all knew was there wasn't any room to move the 17th back. Arguably the most famous golf hole in the world, the Road Hole forces players to pick a letter from the Old Course Hotel logo afixed to a corner of the hotel to drive the ball over.
While the hole was difficult, technology had made it beatable, and with the tour players hitting fairway metals to a tight fairway only to have a short iron into the nasty green, it was time to do something.
Now, when I first mentioned that there was no room on the St. Andrews golf course to build another tee, 40 yards back, I wasn't lying. That is why organizers pushed the thing on the other side of the road, meaning that these pro golfers will have to travel over the road that then circles back behind the green.
What does this mean for the 17th? Well, players will most likely have to hit driver again to the fatter part of the fairway, leaving five and six irons into a skinny green guarded by one of the most difficult bunkers in the world, with a false front to boot. It also means more errant drives to a rough area left of the fairway that is being grown so high you will see anyone in it having to punch out and play for bogey.
When I played the Old Course last year, the caddies told me that the R&A had been working on a hybrid grass on the left side of that fairway, that was more dense and gnarly, meaning that even a punch out might be hard to control.
How will this go over with the people of St. Andrews, that love their golf course more than a frosty pint of Tennants? Probably not very well. The hole has never been changed and has been played at the same distance in the 1900s as it did the last time the course hosted a British Open. But, as we have seen from all our favorite golf courses, from Augusta National to Pebble Beach, the newly-found length in the game calls for drastic measures.
While the locals hate change, they hate players tearing up the golf course even more. There is a picture of Tiger Woods after his 2000 Open victory hanging in the famous Dunvegan bar, "only a 9-iron from the Old Course," with his four scores below it and the final tally of 19-under par. Right below it, there is a simple message to all that think the Old Course was that easy. "No wind," it says.
Moving this hole back will inevitably make the scores go up a smidgen.